"Gear isn't as critical as you begin to believe when you're in the planning stages"
Sarah Erck from Canada, on the road for a year
Once you have got your bike, your racks and your panniers, you will need to sort out your clothes and a set of lightweight camping gear. When you are choosing this kit try and keep the weight down and only take what you are absolutely sure you are going to need. Don't take stuff "just in case". Money is lighter than kit, so it's better to start off with too little stuff and a bit more money and buy the extra things you need en route.
If you are going somewhere warm, clothes are not much of an issue - you just need a couple of pairs of shorts and a few tee-shirts. So, these notes are more about very cold and wet conditions:
For cold conditions, a good, long sleeved baselayer that wicks moisture away from you body is essential. In warm conditions, these tops can be worn on their own and the long sleeves protect you from the sun.
In terms of materials, the choice is between artificial fibres or merino wool. Artificial fibres are generally cheaper and a bit smoother on the skin, but can start to smell after a couple of days use. Merino wool has very good wicking properties and is much less smelly, but some people find it irritates their skin a little.
A couple of thin, fleece tops are much more useful and flexible than one thick one. One smock and one zip up, is a good combination.
It is definitely worth buying tights that are cut for cycling, i.e. high waist and zip pockets. In my opinion, a slightly looser cut is better than skin tight lycra. For cold conditions, get some winter weight tights, e.g. Altura Winter Cruisers.
A good, but lightweight goretex (or equivalent) jacket is essential for cold/wet conditions. Again, it's good if this is cut for cycling, with a long back (duck's arse).
Waterproof trousers are also well worth having for cold, wet or very windy conditions.
Hats and gloves
A good fleece hat is absolutely critical for cold conditions - get the warmest you can find. Most of the time, standard cycling mitts (fingerless) are fine, but for cold/wet conditions you need something a bit warmer. Most cycling gloves aren't sufficiently warm or waterproof for really cold weather. We found gloves designed for ice climbing worked best.
In addition to whatever you cycle in (trekking shoes or shoes with cleats) it's good to have some footwear to change into,e.g. to wear around camp or in hotels. Lightweight plastic sandals are a good option.
As well as your cycling gear, it's good to have one set of respectable clothes, e.g. a pair of trekking trousers and a decent long-sleeved shirt.
A good tent is pretty important on a long tour - it's your home away from home. It's worth spending a bit of money to get a good one.
Features to look for are:
It is well worth investing in an additional ground sheet (£5 on Ebay) to go underneath the tent. This will keep the sewn in ground sheet in good nick.
- Large porch. The more of your kit you can get in the tent with you the more secure you feel at night. A good sized porch is also good for cooking in during wet weather.
- Free standing. Sometimes the ground is just too hard or too loose to take pegs, so a tent that doesn't rely on guys to keep it up is good
- Aluminium poles - stronger than fibreglass.
- Good quality zips. These are normally the first things to wear out, so make sure they are robust.
- Good pegs. There are some really crap pegs around. Look out for the really stiff aluminium ones and avoid bendy steel ones.
If you are travelling solo, you should be looking at tents that weigh around 1.5kg. If there are two of you, you should be looking at less than 3kg.
The Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg, has a range of lightweight tents that are very popular with cycle tourers. Pictured right is the Akto, one-man tent that weighs in at 1.5kg. They also do some good two-man tents. www.hilleberg.com
Our last tent was made by Terra Nova. It lasted 15 years and kept us safe and dry in some atrocious conditions. Pictured left is their Superlite Quaser, two person tent, weighing 2.5kg. www.terra-nova.co.uk
Sleeping bag ratings are based on the lowest external temperature in which they will keep you comfortably warm. So a -10C bag will be warmer than one with a rating of 0C (NB. These ratings are very approximate and can be affected by alot of factors.). The rating you need will depend on where, when and how high you are going. If you are going into the mountains, it's worth remembering just how cold it can get at night. Above 3,000m, even in the height of summer, it can easily get down to -5C. Expect to pay around £150 for a good -5C bag, more if you want a lightweight one.
Down sleeping bags are better than synthetic ones for adventure cycling - they are lighter and pack down smaller. However. down bags are hopeless if they get wet so an essential bit of kit is a waterproof stuff sack (Ortlieb or equivalent). One of these will ensure your sleeping bag stays bone dry through even the wettest of downpours.
If you are heading off on a long trip, a silk liner is a good idea. Very light and quick drying, one of these will add a couple of degrees to the rating of your bag and stop it getting too dirty and smelly. Silk liners go for about £35 on the highstreet and £15 on Ebay.
Some form of mat is essential - sleeping on the ground is just too cold and uncomfortable. If you are on a budget, you can pick up a bog standard, 11mm thick. "Karrimat" type closed cell foam mat for about £10. This is the lightest, cheapest and most robust option.
Semi-inflatable matteresses (Thermarest or equivalent), offer more comfort and insulation, for more weight and considerably more money (from around £40). Because they are inflatable, you do need to be careful how you use these mats. It is relatively easy to puncture them and not that easy to find and repair a leak. For around £20, you can buy a sleeves and straps affair that will convert a Thermarest into a camp chair - well worth considering.
Stoves based that use small propane gas cannisters are cheap (£25-£50), very light, throw out a good amount of heat and are clean, convenient and safe to use. Gas cannisters cost £3-4 each, so the stoves are relatively expensive to run. If you are travelling in Europe, North America and certain South American countries, where the gas cannister are readily available, they are a good choice. In the developing world it can be impossible to get a hold of the gas cannisters.
As the name suggests, multi-fuel stoves will run on almost any liquid fuel, e.g. petrol, diesel, parrafin (kerosene) etc. They blast out a lot of heat and most have an ajustable flame. They are not cheap - by the time you have paid for the burner, a small fuel bottle to run it off and a larger bottle to carry fuel in, you won't have much change from £150. However, they are cheap to run: the cost of the fuel is almost negligible and a litre will last a good few days. Another advantage is that wherever you are, it will almost always be possible to find some sort of fuel you can use. On the downside, they are a bit fiddly (they need priming), can be a bit temperamental (see box) and whereas in bad weather I would happily use a propane stove within my inner tent, I wouldn't risk it with a multifuel.
Our experience with an MSR Dragon Fly Multi-fuel stove
We have used a MSR Dragonfly stove for the last ten years or so. In Europe and South America, using clean petrol, the stove has been excellent. It will boil a pan of water very quickly and its fully adjustable flame makes haute cusine in the wild very easy.
In Central Asia and the Himalayas it has been a different story. The stove really does not like altitude and dirty petrol. It regularly cuts out and either requires fiddly pricking or a stripping down to clear the jet. It has never let us down completely, but it can be intensly irritating. It is also necessary to travel with a full set of spares. People we met who were using the equivalent Primus stoves, seemed to have a lot less trouble. Since our return we have also heard very positive reports about Optimus stoves.
The leading makers of multi-fuel stoves are www.optimus.se, www.msrcorp.com and www.primus.se
These simple yet effective stoves are in a class of their own. They are cheap (around £40) very light, very economical, very wind proof, very reliable and very robust. So why doesn't every one use a Trangia? Well, firstly they burn methylated spirits (ethanol). Meths isn't as readily available as petrol or diesel, and outside of your home country, it can be difficult to know what to ask for, e.g. what's the Serbo-Croat for methylated spirits? (Asking around for "meths" in the US is likely to lead to an uncomfortable conversation with a law officer - over there it is short for the illegal drug meth amphetamine.) Secondly, they don't burn as hot as a pressurised multi-fuel stove and, although they come with a "simmer ring", the flame is not very adjustable, However, Trangia owners are well known for boring their friends by continually telling them how good their stoves are.
Pots, Pans, Plates etc.
No need to be too fussy about pans, just get a couple of lightweight metal saucepans. We think it's also worth having a lightweight non-stick frying pan (because fried eggs are great) and a small travel kettle.
You will also need a large plastic mug (not a metal one - they burn your lips) and a cheap, plastic plate that is deep enough to double as a bowl. It's also worth investing in some cheap lightweight cutlery. Bring at least one decent, sharp, knife and a small sharpening stone.
In developing countries, ensuring you drink only safe water is a really important part of staying well. Unless you are absolutely sure there are no humans or animals upstream, you have to assume all stream water is suspect. There are three ways to purify water:
Boiling water for a minute or so kills all bugs. It's great for hot drinks, but is too time consuming and takes too much fuel to be used to purify your drinking water.
Here the choice is between Iodine and Chlorine. Of the two, Iodine, either in tablet or liquid form, is the most effective, but it leaves an unpleasant taste in the water. Once the Iodine has had a chance to work (30 minutes or so) you can neutralise the taste with asorbic acid (Vitamin C) tablets. Chlorine is a little less effective, but doesn't taste quite so bad
Chemical treatments are reasonably light to carry, but they are quite expensive and become less effective in low temperatures or with cloudy water.
These work by pumping the water through a very fine ceramic filter. Providing the pores are sufficiently small (around 0.2 microns), the filter will remove all nasties except viruses. The main advantages of filters are that there's no limit on the amount of water they can treat, there's no aftertaste, they are not temperature sensitive, they can cope with cloudy water and suck up water that would otherwise be inaccesible. The disadvantages are they are expensive (around £100), quite heavy and the pumping gets to be a bit of a pain. Katadyn www.katadyn.com and MSR www.msrcorp.com make good water filters.
|Katadyn Pocket Filter
Carrying your water
Water is heavy and carrying enough of it in dry areas can be a problem. On our tours, between two of us, Rowena and I take the following:
- bike bottles 4 x 0.75 litres
- plastic water bottles 4 x 1.5 litres
- Orlieb water sack 3 litres
If there is plenty of water about, we'll only fill the bike bottles and a couple of the plastic water bottles. If it looks like we are entering a dry section will fill everything. Also we'll aim to fill everything towards the end of the afternoon, so we are not tied to camping by running water. The Ortlieb water sack is a good bit of kit. When not in use it rolls up small. Filled with water you can just strap it on you rack and slung from the branch of a tree it makes a passable camp shower.
Empty 1 litre soft drinks bottles (Coke, Fanta) make very good water bottles. They fit in most bottles cages and are almost indestructible.
Here's some other stuff that we think is worth having (weight weenies look away now):
- A collapsible bucket - like this one. This has a hundred and one uses (washing clothes, washing yourself, carrying/storing water...) and makes a really big difference to the quality of life in camp.
- Nalgene bottles - these are robust 100% watertight bottles and are great for storing powdered milk, instant coffee, sugar, stewed fruit, etc.
- A few small plastic bottles - good for carrying small amounts of cooking oil and the like.
- Lots of good quality, sealable plastic bags - you can't have too many of these for carrying stuff like porridge and pasta.
- Small torch and a few candles.
- Long length of nylon string and few clothes pegs.
- Bio-friendly travel wash
|Copyright © Tim Barnes 2007